The Posts Take on the Great Reclining Airplane Seat Debate

The newly-dubbed "Etiquette Ninjas" also offer up advice on dealing with bill-squabbling double dates and finding a "benevolent truth" to compliment a friend on a bad haircut.

Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. Courtesy of The Emily Post Institute.
Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. Courtesy of The Emily Post Institute.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and we often invite a celebrity to answer them. But every so often, we have our resident experts stop by, and their names are Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. They’re the great-great-grandkids of manners sensei Emily Post — I gave her a promotion, she’s sensei now — co-authors of “Emily Post’s Etiquette, the 18th Edition,” and they co-host the podcast “Awesome Etiquette.” Lizzie and Dan, welcome back.

Daniel Post Senning: The etiquette ninjas!

Lizzie Post: I dig it!

Brendan Francis Newnam: We honor Emily.

Is it OK to recline your seat on an airplane?

Rico Gagliano: But let’s ask you a question that I don’t think Emily could’ve commented upon. It’s a bit of a modern problem. Summer travel season has just begun; Is it OK to recline your seat if you are sitting in the confines of an airplane’s coach class?

Lizzie Post: Dan just threw his headphones in the air and walked away [Daniel laughs]. This is such a hot-button issue because, first of all, nobody likes it when the seat is reclined into their space. That said, at the same time, you purchased a seat that has the ability to do that.

Rico Gagliano: Yes!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes!

Daniel Post Senning: It’s your prerogative. I think during the meal, it’s a courtesy to put your seat back up for the person behind you. I think that’s starting to emerge as a courtesy.

Rico Gagliano: But otherwise, “Deal with it,” right?

Brendan Francis Newnam: You are allowed to take your seat and put it back.

Lizzie Post: You are.

Daniel Post Senning: You’re allowed.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you can’t let them divide us. You know, the anger should be directed toward the airline.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, they shouldn’t be allowed to squeeze us so tightly together that using the seat as it is meant to be used is causing pain to the person behind you!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes.

Daniel Post Senning: I couldn’t agree more.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, the one thing worse than getting squeezed in a seat, is hearing people talk about it —

Lizzie Post: OK.

How do you handle couples fighting over a restaurant bill?

Brendan Francis Newnam: — And we have questions that our listeners want answered. I’m very excited about this first one, ’cause we’re going from planes to trains. So here’s a question from Kristen in Lexington, Kentucky. Kristen writes:

“I’m a server on a fine dining dinner train…” That sounds amazing —

Lizzie Post: Wow!

Daniel Post Senning: I want to ride on that train.

Brendan Francis Newnam: — I know, so do I!

“I’m a server on a fine dining dinner train, and I constantly run into the issue of couples bickering over which one of them gets the privilege of paying the bill. It usually ends with one person being upset with me because I didn’t hand them the bill. So, what’s a server to do? Should I always hand the bill to the male? Or should I just turn around and toss it over my shoulder at them in the hope it falls in the right person’s hands? Help!”

Lizzie Post: You know, the easy answer here is put it as close to the middle, and not pointing in any one person’s direction, as you can.

Daniel Post Senning: Neutral position on the table.

Lizzie Post: Neutral territory! Find that neutral ground.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But let me take this one a step further. How many times do you have to say, “No, let me,” before you let them? You know what I mean?

Lizzie Post: If someone says that they’re going to take the bill, then you say, “Oh, thank you so much! That’s really kind. I’ll get it the next time.”

Rico Gagliano: All right.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you better resolve this because you’re stuck on a train.

Lizzie Post: Seriously!

Is it rude to trade a bad apple for a good one?

Rico Gagliano: All right, here’s something from Dana in Honolulu, Hawaii. Where actually, we just started airing in a very nice new time slot on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. So, hello to everyone on KIPO.

Lizzie Post: Aloha.

Rico Gagliano: Dana writes: “Many of us in Honolulu shop at Costco. When buying a large package of apples, I often — if not always — swap out some of the lamer looking apples for better ones in another package. This involves a lot of shuffling, and opening, and rearranging. Is it rude to trade a bad apple for a good one?”

Daniel Post Senning: Is this an ethics question or an etiquette question?

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s an ethi-quette question.

Lizzie Post: Ethi-quette.

Rico Gagliano: And it’d be rude of you not to try to answer it.

Daniel Post Senning: I think it’s perfectly OK to swap an apple or two. But the second it become a project in the produce aisle, where you’re really deconstructing whole bags, and you start to make a scene of yourself, I think it starts to tread into that bad etiquette territory. But, testing the produce, getting a good, ripe piece of produce, or produce that’s just in the condition that you’d want it, is part of the pleasure of shopping.

Lizzie Post: Not all bruised and crummy!

Rico Gagliano: So, it’s really more of an etiquette question about that moment in the store, not so much getting your fingerprints all over someone else’s apple.

Lizzie Post: Right, absolutely. I think that’s fine.

Daniel Post Senning: And wash ’em before you eat ’em.

Lizzie Post: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So Dana, it is your right to shuffle some fruit, but when the shuffling becomes a whole Busby Berkeley stage show, not OK.

Rico Gagliano: Take it down a notch.

Find a “benevolent truth” to compliment a friend’s bad hairstyle.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. This next question comes to us from Anonymous. It was sent to us through our website. Anonymous writes:

“I have a friend who is always fishing for compliments on their hairstyle. My honest opinion is that the look — far from being hip — ages them by years.”

Rico Gagliano: Oh, no.

Brendan Francis Newnam: “Thus far, I’ve managed to avoid the topic, but how long can you politely ignore someone on this issue? Do I eventually have to be honest? If so, how?”

Rico Gagliano: So, this is less about the hair question and more about how long can you avoid a topic without seeming like a jerk.

Lizzie Post: So, totally understand getting frustrated having to avoid the topic. But at some point, you have to ask yourself what it sounds like when you then don’t avoid the topic? “You know, your hairstyle really looks crummy and it ages you by about a decade.” Boy, that’s a tough recovery.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Lizzie Post: I think this is one of those times where you find what we call the “benevolent truth,” find whatever positive thing there is to say. You could say, “Hey, the color’s great!” You know, whatever it is. And you let it be that.

Daniel Post Senning: Particularly in the face of excitement and enthusiasm about it.

Lizzie Post: Definitely, yeah.

Daniel Post Senning: If the person’s really asking for your opinion, I think you look for a cue that your honesty will be received. Is the person really looking for help and advice, or are they really looking to have their enthusiasm reflected back to them?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I look at this question, and I think about a spectrum of relationships. If you’re very, very close to me, and I have to be next to you constantly, then maybe I have to really be honest with you.

Lizzie Post: “If I have to see your hair all the time!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Now, if you’re a middle-level friend, you know, lie. “Your hair looks great!” This is why white lies were invented…

Daniel Post Senning: Well, I will agree with everything there except the lie. There’s a benevolent truth that’s dancing around that white lie somewhere.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, man.

Rico Gagliano: But it’s OK Brendan, I get the picture, you don’t like my hair.

If I snort when I laugh, do I say “excuse me” like a burp?

Here’s something from Elia in Minnesota. Elia writes: “If I snort when I laugh, do I say ‘excuse me’ like a burp?”

Lizzie Post: Dan, you and your fiancée both do that. You totally both do that! Dan has picked up his fiancée’s laugh — it’s really funny.

Daniel Post Senning: I’ve picked up a snort laugh.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, no. Do you wish that Dan would apologize for it constantly?

Lizzie Post: I say, maybe if it’s a real honking snort, I would say, “Oh, excuse me” afterwards.

Daniel Post Senning: You might, yeah. I wouldn’t be…

Lizzie Post: …Embarrassed about it.

Daniel Post Senning: …Super embarrassed about it. Exactly. It’s not vulgar.

Rico Gagliano: And isn’t there a difference between a mannerism and, you know, something that you can perhaps control or stand up from the table before doing?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yes. And also, in the context of laughter, there’s already a bouquet of noise, and your snort is but one flower. As opposed to a burp, which just comes out of nowhere like a weed.

Lizzie Post: Where did you come from today?

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, I don’t know.

Daniel Post Senning: Seriously, this is spectacular!

Brendan Francis Newnam: I drank coffee after noon.

Rico Gagliano: All right, let’s get out of here before things turn any more poetic. Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning, thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave.

Daniel Post Senning: You’re most welcome.

Lizzie Post: Oh, of course. Anytime.